XII[12arg] A law of Solon, the result of careful thought and consideration, which at first sight seems unfair and unjust, but on close examination is found to be altogether helpful and salutary.
AMONG those very early laws of Solon which were inscribed upon wooden tablets at Athens, and which, promulgated by him, the Athenians ratified by penalties and oaths, to ensure their permanence, Aristotle says 1 that there was one to this effect: “If because of strife and disagreement civil dissension shall ensue and a division of the people into two parties, and if for that reason each side, led by their angry feelings, shall take up arms and fight, then if anyone at that time, and in such a condition of civil discord, shall not ally himself with one or the other faction, but by himself and apart shall hold aloof from the common calamity of the State, let hint be deprived of his home, his country, and all his property, and be an exile and an outlaw.” [p. 157] When I read this law of Solon, who was a man of extraordinary wisdom, I was at first filled with something like great amazement, and I asked myself why it was that those who had held themselves aloof from dissension and civil strife were thought to be deserving of punishment. Then those who had profoundly and thoroughly studied the purpose and meaning of the law declared that it was designed, not to increase, but to terminate, dissension. And that is exactly so. For if all good men, who have been unequal to checking the dissension at the outset, do not abandon the aroused and frenzied people, but divide and ally themselves with one or the other faction, then the result will be, that when they have become members of the two opposing parties, and, being men of more than ordinary influence, have begun to guide and direct those parties, harmony can best be restored and established through the efforts of such men, controlling and soothing as they will the members of their respective factions, and desiring to reconcile rather than destroy their opponents. The philosopher Favorinus thought that this same course ought to be adopted also with brothers, or with friends, who are at odds; that is, that those who are neutral and kindly disposed towards both parties, if they have had little influence in bringing about a reconciliation because they have not made their friendly feelings evident, should then take sides, some one and some the other, and through this manifestation of devotion pave the way for restoring harmony. “But as it is,” said he, “most of the friends of both parties make a merit of abandoning the two disputants, leaving them to the tender [p. 159] mercies of ill-disposed or greedy advisers, who, animated by hatred or by avarice, add fuel to their strife and inflame their passions.”